My son was here last weekend for a pre-planned visit. Well I say pre-planned but his planning is generally only a week or two out from his date of travel unless he goes someplace for work. I was grateful to see him and for once there were no heated arguments or harsh words.
Nor should there be. He is in his 30s. On his own since college. We need to be able to get along. However, he has had a living-together arrangement for about 5 years now and I seem to irritate him often since this began. If I ask about what she does. If I comment on how much he eats at restaurants or on the run. If I ask about his exercising. This time was the best so far and as my dad would advise me, “it takes two to make a fight”. So I stayed calm, did not ask questions on incendiary issues. Seemed to work out ok.
I think this is easier said than done. Dysfunction existed since before therapists made it so popular in the 80s when everyone appeared to not only have a therapist but talked profusely about it. Yet this is a catch-all word and I think diminishes that which it means to expose. The fact that even though everyone is different, even though each of us has (and is entitled to) opinions of our own, somehow hostility, anger, condemnation creep in and before long there’s an explosion, hurt feelings, blaming, misunderstandings that have become barbed wire walls near impossible to get through.
Some of this comes from historic feelings. Relationships that have “buttons” that are activated by a gesture, facial expression, or certain words. And most are imagined or inflamed by our feelings, then clung to like life preservers. Like the flip side of happy memories, these are the nightmares we often gloss over, push to the recesses of our minds or somehow justify hoping they won’t come back and haunt us.
But they do. I remember in the early 80s when my divorce was just over. I anesthetized those feelings rather than work through them. I mired myself in work, avoiding the personas I had now become: divorced single woman and parent. I could not bring myself to face this alone, which was what I was. Rather than ask God’s help, find a good church where supportive people usually abound I stuck it out on my own and made things much worse with many many mistakes. So like Charles Dickens’ Marley I forged a few chains that I persisted in dragging around rather than try to find the key which would unlock them and free my life from them and their accompanying false guilt and self-imposed perpetuated humiliations.
I am not at all intending to say this would negate the facts: I am still today a single, divorced parent. But through these thirty-plus years, so many mistakes, tears, temper tantrums, epiphanies, set-backs, understandings, disillusionments, clarifications and owning up to it all by taking responsibility I have survived myself, my vain, futile efforts to struggle and overcome myself on my own only to find it works better when I ask for help. Not just other people’s help. I have found through all the difficult times, hating myself for yet again another hangover, or wondering whether I could make the mortgage payment, have enough to pay household bills and buy groceries, pay for medical bills, eye doctors, vet bills and dentists, there was always enough. Never to where I became complacent, but enough to where I learned to be humble, grateful and generous when I could be. More depth of understanding and compassion because I had been there. And got out of wherever was potentially harmful or self-defeating.
And overwhelmed that, through it all, the darkness and the joys, no matter how hard I tried to avoid Him, God was the One giving me this strength, provision, encouragement. Turning to Him did not diminish me. On the contrary, like the prodigal son I truly was welcomed, freed from self-hatred and deprecation, loved, forgiven and cleansed. Don’t get me wrong, I still stumble, sometimes even go flat on my face or my rear, but I can pick myself up, tell Him, and ask Him for forgiveness, restoration, guidance.
I will never have arrived, at least not in this life. No one ever does no matter how much we have, achieve, learn or become. Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Rev. Billy Graham saw this on a road construction sign and had it inscribed on her gravestone:
“End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”
So however many days I am given in this life it may seem sometimes that I’m being hit with a jack-hammer, or covered in rough gravel, or bathed in hot tar, or steam-rolled to perfect smooth flatness then painted with boundary lines from trial-and-error efforts at how to be and in all this process obstructing or slowing other traffic. I will be continually learning, growing, struggling, changing, hoping, aspiring like all of us will. As long as we are living this is what we do. Sometimes I’ll be mired in darkness deep in a valley, or standing on a sun-soaked mountaintop. But I pray wherever I find myself I keep Christmas in my heart.
May God grant each of us grace and humility, peace and strength, and love to carry us through. In Jesus, Amen.